Friday, October 25, 2013

What Ever Happened To Sisterhood?

A small disclaimer:  When it comes to motherhood, I have it easy.

Despite my husband and I both being 'challenging' babies, by a strange twist of fate we've somehow managed to produce a good-natured, easy-going girl.  I'm by nature a worrier, a panicker and easily stressed and by all accounts was expected to be that type of mother but plenty have expressed surprise at how calmly I've taken to motherhood.  I'd love to take credit for my unexpectedly serene approach but the simple fact is that Liv makes it easy.  She's never been ill, she's always eaten well without fuss and she's a champion sleeper.  Champion.  It won't make me many friends to admit this but she regularly doesn't wake up until after 9am, after having gone to bed at some point between 7- 8pm and until recently was happily taking two naps a day of up to 2 hours each.  I don’t know how or why, I just thank my lucky stars.  On top of all this luck, the quirks of my husband's working hours mean that he's often around at times during the day to help out and is very involved with her day-to-day routines. And the times when he's out working of an evening have a silver lining, as with Liv asleep and the place to myself, I get plenty of opportunities for much needed 'me time', which is essential for a new mother's sanity.

We're also fortunate enough that I had the choice of not returning to work and am instead able to follow my husband around the world with our daughter, which is just the most incredible luxury - the fact that we can all be together is worth more than anything to us.  

Oh and living in this day and age makes things easier too.  While we're grateful for washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, dust-busters and other household gadgets that make life easier, it's the newer technologies that I'm eternally grateful for.  In the early days of breastfeeding, being able to distract myself at 4am with emails and articles on my smartphone or a good book on my e-reader helped those initial drawn-out feeds seem more bearable.  I had white-noise apps and bedtime story apps and music to distract Liv.  I had apps to record her vague schedule to see patterns in her behaviour and apps that gave me weekly updates on roughly what she should be up to, with forums where I could seek advice or reassurance or solutions from mothers with babies the same age.  And how would I have coped without Google?  Any slight niggle or worry was usually solved with a quick search and realization that whatever was bothering me was completely normal.  How my grandmothers both raised six children without all this help and under harsh financial conditions is beyond me.  

If it helps you not completely hate me, I should mention that I had a tricky pregnancy, moved country when my daughter was 3 weeks old and have been travelling back and forth ever since, my father nearly died when Liv was 10 weeks old and then spent 6 months seriously ill in hospital while we were mostly stuck on the other side of the world, her other grandfather has also been seriously unwell this year and due to our travelling and our parents’ health crises, we haven’t had anyone to take her off our hands occasionally for a break.  Plus, the next little one might be a complete nightmare, so don’t write me off completely!

But the point of all this, is to explain that despite being blessed with so much luck, I have at times really struggled.  There have been brief periods when everything has seemed all too much.  I found breastfeeding tough and it took almost six months to feel comfortable with it.  Like any other baby, Liv has struggled with teething, had bouts of colic, suffered through growth spurts and ‘wonder weeks’ and we have suffered with her.  There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture method and for those few weeks when sleep has been a distant memory and I’ve been battling to get through the day feeling horrendous and with a sad and angry little girl who’s in pain or confused and frustrated, I’ve had a peek into what some people have to deal with all the time.  Those mothers (and fathers) whose little ones are sick, or have special needs, or whose partners are absent, either permanently or temporarily, or are struggling with huge worries and burdens, or who just have a tricky baby like my mother did – I was an underweight, colicky and sickly baby, who was allergic to milk, had constant ear infections and picked up every bug going and just basically cried and refused to eat or sleep most of the time.  In those patches when I’ve caught a glimpse of the harsh reality for plenty of other parents, I’m so grateful to have had so much good fortune and it serves as a reminder to go easy on other parents, as you never know what they're battling with.

I don't really have a parenting method or mantra, other than to do whatever works for me and my family to stay sane and to be prepared to try anything.  I started out before Liv was born with a few set ideas and most of those have gone out of the window.  I had preconceptions about various parenting styles and was often judgemental but now I just do whatever it takes to work for us and I'm open to all sorts that previously I would never have considered.

The reason for this splurge is that I noticed on Facebook the other day that a couple of totally unrelated friends had commented on the same post.  I was intrigued and realised it was a post written by fairly well known ‘baby guru’.  It wasn't anything particularly exciting, just a story of a recent client's baby and the success of her methods.  One of my friends had commented that she'd found the same methods helpful with her daughter and a few other mothers had followed suit.  And that's where it should have ended.  Except, there was suddenly a barrage of abusive comments from other mothers in their hundreds, calling the 'baby guru' all sorts of atrocious things but much more shockingly, completely condemning the mothers who were following her methods.  And the language was more than a little fruity.  Really disgusting words and insults being slung about. And accusations of abuse by the mothers using the methods.  For the record, it's a variation of sleep training and a fairly mild one at that (I'd even bought the book myself but due to laziness, had never got beyond the first few chapters).  I was utterly shocked.  How new mothers could treat each other like that was beyond me - they more than anyone should know how hard it can be and how difficult it is to survive the first few months of any baby, let alone a tricky one.  And what sort of an example is that to set, with such harsh words and treatment of others?

So really, this is just a plea to all mothers to support each other, regardless of your opinions.  Don't be quick to jump to conclusions or judge too harshly.  You never know what another mother's having to deal with.  We're all just trying to survive and do our very best for our families.  How we manage that is up to us.  If you've got it all worked out and are sailing through everything perfectly, then bully for you.  But for goodness sake don't let your smugness actually turn you into a bully.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Teething with Blueberry Pancakes

I rue the day that I idly declared that 'this teething malarkey' was woefully inefficient and it would be better for a whole load to pop through during one short and sharp nightmarish week, rather than dragging on for months in dribs and drabs.  Turns out the gods, or my daughter, were listening and Liv seems to cutting six all at once, which unsurprisingly has culminated in a nightmarish few weeks.  Especially when combined with the delights of a tricky first trimester.  The poor little monkey has been suffering terribly and I've thrown everything I can at the problem - buying every form of medication / gel / swab / herbal remedy / teething ring going (even the hocus pocus teething necklace I promised myself never to stoop to) and have been freezing all sorts of strange things in an attempt to give her some relief.  

Apart from dealing with her sobbing little face, the hardest thing has been finding ways to get her to eat.  Her previous greediness has completely vanished as a mouth full of pain has put her off most food, other than milk, fruit and the odd hunk of frozen bagel.  I wouldn't ordinarily be too worried, as she has plenty of reserves to fall back on but rather selfishly, I'm less than impressed with the way she's been waking up several times a night, hungry and needing milk.  She hasn't done this since she was a newborn and I'm in no hurry to go back to those days, especially as we'll be doing it all over again in a matter of months with No. 2.  She's always been a bit of a berry fiend and thanks for the amazing accessibility and affordability of fruit from New York's fruit stalls (a fraction of the price of fruit in London), we've been showering her with berries in an attempt to get some food into her. While staring at yet another box of blueberries in the fridge, it occurred to me that I might be able to sneak some extra calories in her with blueberries pancakes - soft enough for her sore gums, with a touch of sweetness as an incentive and her favourite blueberries to seal the deal.  Plus, a comfort brunch was definitely needed for us poor parents who had been up all night.

I promise you that these are super easy to make, as I managed to blearily put them together in a matter of minutes after just a few hours sleep.  

Basic recipe:

- 200g (1 1/2 U.S. cups) self-raising flour
(or if you've run out as I had, 200g plain/all purpose flour and 2 tsp baking powder)
- 1 egg
- 300ml milk (1 1/4 U.S. cups) 
(or buttermilk if you have it - I didn't so added 1 tbsp lemon/lime juice to the milk and let it sit for 5 mins to make buttermilk)
- 1 knob of melted butter
- 1 pack of blueberries (save a handful for garnishing)

Optional extras:

- 1 tsp baking powder for added oomph
- 3 tsp sugar 
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of cinnamon 

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  Crack an egg in the centre and stir in, before adding the milk and melted butter.  Mix together and add the blueberries before a final stir.

Heat your pan to medium.  Melt a knob of butter and add three small spoonfuls/ladles of batter to the pan.  Cook for 2/3 minutes until small bubbles appear on the surface, then flip and cook the other side for another 2/3 minutes.  Serve hot.  

I like to serve three as an adult portion, with a sprinkling of caster sugar, maple/golden syrup, a scattering of fresh blueberries and a dollop of sour cream/thick yoghurt on the side.  My daughter gets them plain and in strips.

The good news is that Liv happily snaffled these and we managed to squeeze a few more hours’ sleep out of her.  Fingers crossed this tricky patch will be over soon and we can enjoy her toothy grin instead!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Beauty In A Hurry – 3 Minute Make Up for Busy Mums

My days of trying out endless beauty treatments and stuffing cupboards full of beauty products are long gone.  As a time-pressed Mum who flip-flops between countries, often living out of suitcases, it's no longer practical to have anything but a fast, simple and reliable beauty regime.  I know plenty of people feel you have quite enough to do chasing after a wee one to be worrying about such trivial things but I've always found a few minutes spent perking up my face and making things slightly more presentable can make the world of difference to how I feel. 

I've got a basic 'ready to face the world' face which takes minutes to do.  Usually I start with a quick dab of brightening moisturiser.  I've dabbled in Clarins Beauty Flash Balm, Clarins Double Serum, Elemis Pro-Radiance Illuminating Flash Balm or whatever magazine freebie/sample I can lay my hands on (regularly popping into swanky beauty shops and asking for samples has served me well so far and a few small tubes makes packing all the easier). I'm not entirely convinced that they work miracles but I always hope that if I layer on as many light-reflecting products as possible, something will end up dazzling and distracting from my dark circles.  

Then I conceal away, usually using Laura Mercier Undercover Pot, which is no-nonsense - especially on those bags and if I remember, I pop a little Laura Mercier Brightening Powder under my eyes.  I've gone through phases of YSL's Touche Eclat if I've found a good deal at the airport and I made sure to stock up ahead of Liv's arrival. Maybe it's just a placebo effect but it made me feel like I was ready for battle.  If it's a bad day skin-wise I might dab on a little BB cream before the concealer but I try to let my skin breathe as much as possible and only ever use foundation if I've going somewhere special.

Generally with make up, I try to buy mineral based products.  There's some debate as to how effective they are but since I switched a few years ago, my skin has never been better, despite all the hormonal ups and downs.  I invested in a whole range of Laura Mercier products at the time and most of them are still going strong, which is impressive.  I particularly like her mineral primer and mineral powder for lightness despite full coverage.  Her Eye Basics, which is essentially an eyelid primer is amazing for keeping eyeshadow in place and preventing that gunky crease I used to get after a few hours. Given the prices, I bought a product or two each month for a few months until my make up bag was well stocked and only the Eye Basics is starting to run out, which is pretty good going.  So once you swallow the initial pain, the prices work out pretty reasonably as a little goes a long way.  Another decent alternative, which is much more affordable, is the UNE Natural Beauty range that's pretty accessible in the UK.  Boots and Superdrug often have deals, so if you're lucky with those, it's even more of a bargain.  Their eyeshadows and creamy blushers are particularly good.   

Anyway, back to my face.  If I'm looking peaky, a swirl of Laura Mercier Bronzing Powder usually does then trick but I always go for a pop of blusher on the apples of my cheeks.  I alternate between an UNE Breezy Cheeks Blush, which is a cream-to-powder formula or Benefit's Posie Tint.  Don't be freaked out but the neon pink colour - it bends beautifully into a fresh flush.  Occasionally I might follow up with a spot or two of Benefit's High Beam but just a touch or it can be a bit overbearing.

And then it's the eyes.  Even if I don't bother with anything else, I curl my eyelashes for a few seconds using Jemma Kidd Eyelash Curlers (another freebie) to make me look a little more awake.  If I can be bothered with primer and eyeshadow, great, but usually I skip all that and just put a touch of eyeliner on the outside corner of my eyes for a little feline flick (I find an idiot-proof felt-pen type works best), and a coat of mascara.  I recently discovered Max Factor's Eye Brightening Tonal Mascara.  I've got bluey/greeny/gray eyes so wasn't really sure whether to go for the blue or green-eyed option but plumped for the blue one and it seems to works a treat.  It's called Black Sapphire and has touches of sparkly blue, which sounds a bit retro but I promise is very subtle - it seems to add a tiny brightness and it's such a light formula that I never get any clumping, despite my lack of application skill.  Then it's just a final slick of eyebrow gel in an attempt to tame my monster brows and I'm good to go.  

Writing it down makes it sounds terribly complicated and fiddly but I really do manage in a couple of minutes, usually squinting into a tiny hand held mirror, so I can dart back and forth rescuing whatever product Liv's just helped herself to.

Painted nails make me feel more competent and that somehow I've vaguely got it together.  One of the bonuses of living in New York is the plethora of cheap nail bars.  They're gradually trickling over the pond but the UK is still nowhere close, especially on price.  When Liv was tiny, I managed a few successful mani/pedi vists while she was snoozing in her pram but now there's no chance.  She's far too interested in what's going on and wants to be constantly entertained, which is tricky with no hands or feet available.  So now I resort to occasional home efforts while she's napping.  I used to always try out new and crazy nail colours but now it's not very practical carting them around and I don't have the time for correcting unfortunate choices, so I just stick to some basics:  in the summer I go for a bright coral pink on my toes and sometimes hands.  Otherwise it's a dark purple on my toes (Rimmel's 385 Hot List) and usually a very neutral rose pink or greige on my hands, as I find it more forgiving in hiding chips.  Though if I'm throwing caution to the wind, I'll plump for purple hands too.  I should point out that it's a subtle deep purple - muted and with almost brown tones.  

To avoid yellow stains, I always use an undercoat, then it's two coats of colour and a final very important coat of top coat for shine and protection.  I find Sally Hansen's Insta-Dri a lifesaver, despite the awful name, as it pretty much sets like concrete in seconds.  And you never know when naptime will suddenly end!  Pre-baby I used to paint my hands at work, as I'm too impatient to stay still with wet nails but found I could stay still while typing, so I would do a coat, type for half and hour, do the next coat etc. and those manicures would last really well.  Now I find my hands a bit more of an afterthought but toes are pretty easy to fit in with a little one and the colour lasts for weeks if not months.  In fact before this morning, I’d last painted my toes in July!  There were only a few scraps of polish left but I didn’t have any nail polish remover so I was just waiting it out until it occurred to me to try lightly buffing with a nail file, which removed the last traces perfectly – a handy fall-back!

Otherwise I'm pretty simple in the beauty department.  I use my Clarisonic Mia 2 in the shower if I remember.  I'm blessed/cursed with super thick hair that only needs washing every 3 days but takes an hour to dry and straighten once washed, so I rely on my Parlux hairdryer for fast drying and wide-plated GHD straighteners for taming the frizz.  And my only regular beauty indulgence is eyebrow threading every other week but really that's a necessity as without it I look like Frida Kahlo.  I know big brows are in right now with Cara Delevingne and Lily Collins rocking the look but they've not always been around to help me and it's been a while.  Fortunately I have several pairs of Tweezerman Slanted tweezers and terrifying magnifying mirrors stashed all over the place, so I am never far from an emergency monobrow solution.

So that’s me.  What are your fail-safe beauty basics, shortcuts and tricks?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Grey Area

We've just moved into our very own apartment in Manhattan.  The comedy of the buying process is another story but let's just say things are certainly easier and more transparent in the UK.  But now we're in, the fun begins - decorating!  
This is the first time we've ever started from scratch - we arrived with nothing but a few suitcases, so it's exciting to be searching for everything anew.  As you can imagine, my Pinterest boards have taken a bit of a battering but discovering all the New York interiors shops has been great fun.  We're getting there on the basics and things are feeling less like glamping but increasingly in the search for furniture and colour schemes, I'm finding myself drawn to grey.  Grey, grey and yet more grey.  We all know about that sodding book but what is it about this colour that feels so fresh and elegant and now?  
I've been particularly impressed with grey's versatility.  It's fantastic as a neutral background for making other colours and metallics pop.  It's a great partner for light and darker wood.  And of course there's such a range of gorgeous tones to choose from with dark inky charcoals, silvery greeny-greys and feathery blue-grays.  And then there's the ability for grey to make textures look super luxe and expensive - wool, felt, leather, suede.  Even plastics suddenly seem smarter in a dark matt grey. 
Grey is no longer seen as dreary and depressing, or an unfortunate 80's throwback (got to love the retro black, red and grey colour scheme).  It's a calming constant in our homes that can provide both lightness and warmth.  And the paint names are a hoot:  Farrow & Ball's 'Elephant's Breath' and 'Mole's Breath' and Benjamin Moore's 'Dragon's Breath'.  I don't know who decided that stinky animal breath was an attractive image but the marketing strategy seems to be working!
So I'm hoping this grey era is not just a phase, especially given the price of aspirational breathy paint...